Miles Gloriosus is a comedy by Titus Maccius Plautus, who lived between 254 and 184 B.C. It is a Roman play that was based on a lost Greek play called Alazon.
The title of the play, “Miles Gloriosus” refers to the title of a stock character, “the braggart soldier”. The use of stock characters, which the audience would be aware of, was common at the time. The braggart soldier in this play is Pyrgopolynices, who has kidnapped the young maiden Philocomasium (the stock character meretrix – “courtesan”) and also acquired her servant, Palaestrio (the stock character servus callidus – “the clever slave”).
The play takes place on one particular street in Ephesus, between the two houses of Pyrgopolynices and his neighbor, Periplectomenus (the stock character senex amator –“the lusty old man”).
The cleverest schemer in Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus is Palaestrio, the servant of Pyrgopolynices. This is why he fits the description of the stock character “servus callidus” perfectly. He has managed to accomplish a great number of clever tricks and schemes throughout the play, all without being discovered by others around him. First of all, despite being a mere servant, he acquired a ship to go inform his master (Pleusicles, the stock character adulescens – “the hero/ young lover”) that Pyrgopolynices had stolen his lover, Philocomasium.
He then managed to devise a secret passage between Philocomasium’s room at Pyrgoploynices’ house and where Pleusicles is staying next door, without anyone noticing anything being constructed or dug up. He then figures out how to trick Sceledrus (the stock character servi – “slave”) into thinking he did not see Philocomasium being unfaithful, with a plot that her twin sister has arrived and is staying next door. This trick is accomplished by Philocomasium running through the secret passage and being shown coming out of two different doors, which confuses Sceledrus immensely.
Then, after that disaster is averted, he devises a plot to trick Pyrgopolynices into letting Philocomasium go free – he plays into the “braggart soldier’s” vanity by making him think his neighbor’s wife (who is actually just a hired courtesan, Arcoteletium) is in love with him. Pyrgopolynices then lets Philocomasium go free in order to be with this woman. Not only is she allowed to go free, but she is allowed to keep any goods given to her during her time as Pyrgopolynices’ courtesan, as consolation for being “dumped”. Palaestrio even earns his own freedom from this, because Philocomasium asks that he leave with her. This is why Palaestrio is the most clever schemer in the play.